Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Altar the Call?" Why I still call for a Gospel response after I preach

In the last few years there seems to have been a move away from calling for a response to the Gospel after preaching amongst my friends and peers. This has largely been due to a rediscovery of the theology of the Sovereignty of God in salvation - a realization that it is God who gives a person faith to believe and repent, not the preacher. This has meant a reluctance on preachers' behalf to meddle with God's work in people, trying to give them space to respond as God regenerates and convicts, rather than attempt to move people towards a decision.

I have appreciated aspects of this attitude in the sense that it is reverential towards God and His Gospel, and respectful towards people. Many of us have sat in meetings where Charles Finney -style evangelistic techniques have been used to manipulate people into a decision. I was in a funeral a few months ago where the preacher stood next to the coffin after his preach and said, "If you want to see this person in heaven one day, then give your life to Jesus today." I too, want nothing to do with this kind of approach. It is both heartless and faithless.

However, I do see much biblical evidence of preachers calling for a decisive response from their hearers. Jesus' first words recorded in the Gospel of Mark were,
"The kingdom of heaven is near. Repent and believe the Gospel." His next words to Peter and his fishing companions were, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." Essentially his message came with a call, "Repent. believe. Follow." And they did.

Paul too, was not merely an explainer of Gospel truth. He was a proclaimer, calling for a response. "Therefore, I implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." (2 Cor 6)He explained, proclaimed and pleaded!

I think this is the nub of the issue. Many who have rediscovered reformed theology tend towards explaining the Gospel, which leads to clarity, but avoid proclaiming it, which leads to response. They are worried that imploring can get in the way of God's sovereign work. Paul however, didn't seem to see a conflict between the two, understanding that a Sovereign God graciously uses the foolishness of preaching as He Sovereignly awakens people to faith. "For it pleased God through the foolishness of preaching to save those who would believe." (1 Cor 1:21)

This is why I have resisted the pressure from some of my friends to stop calling for a Gospel response at the end of a message, because it is now 'out of vogue.' I know there will be those who respond insincerely, some even out of a wrong understanding of the Gospel. We need to be open to changing the way we call for a response so that there is no confusion or manipulation. But there will always be those whom God has awakened to faith in the Gospel by His Spirit. They require the preacher to impress upon them the decisive urgency of the moment. "Today if you hear his voice do not harden your heart. Today is the day of salvation."


  1. Hi Alan,

    What you're distinguishing here is the fine difference between the perfunctory, human attempt to do God's regenerating work upon a soul and the preacher's mandate to proclaim the gospel and then reverentially trust God as Sovereign to draw men unto Himself.

    The distinction is vast. The latter involves having a fear of the Lord for the souls of men, whereas the former involves men who try to economize on God's work.

    Keep holding fast!

  2. Hey Al

    Good article! The questions is what response do you mean? I agree we must push them for response, but if by response you mean 'raise hands and repeat a prayer', then I disagree. I don't know of many preachers who don't call for a response - surely we are to be like Paul and plead / beg for people to respond to God (2 Cor 5). I certainly do.

    I think the issue is around the means of response. Scripture doesn't show the raising of hands as the response. When we ask people who want to be saved to raise their hands and repeat a prayer, I think we are treading on very dangerous ground leading to a possibility of false assurance. The millions of unconverted people who believe they are saved because they raised a hand should terify us into walking carefully here.

    It's not that the New Testament doesn't call for a response - it does. But that response is baptism. Many have switched the outward display of saving faith from baptism to altar call. Baptism can't be done with every eye closed. It can't be a sudden decision helped along by padded keys and the right mood. It has to be made in the cold light of day. The pastor must have spoken through the reality of true faith with the person. Once this has happened, and the person has counted the cost, they publicly declare Christ as Lord through this means.

    I believe as preachers we must beg and implore our people to repent of their sins, and cling to Christ by putting their faith in Him. We should do this weekly. But to lead them through a public prayer might do more harm than good. Let's encourage them to repent and pray in their chairs by themselves. Let them come to a pastor afterwards if they want. But tell them that the response is baptism - a visible display to themselves and the world that they are dead to self and alive to Christ.

    Would love to hear your comments,


  3. Alan,

    I don't know you but I sure as hell like what you have to say each Sunday.

  4. Thanks Jeremy. Come say hi one sunday.